It seems the simmer is escalating to a boil in Southern Baptist life. This morning I received a package from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). In it was a letter from the Director of Evangelism encouraging us Texas pastors to consider the enclosed materials, which “[address] two critical issues of our day that directly effect evangelism in the local church.”
What are these resources? One, there is a sermon in print entitled “The C-Word (Calvinism)” preached by Roy Fish in 1997. It is basically an address warning about how Calvinism endangers evangelism and missions. Dr. Fish’s humility is apparent, but let me offer some quotes for your digestion:
“Calvinism is extremely weak when it comes to giving assurance to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. . . . It leaves one to start looking within rather than without to the cross and the finished work of Jesus as the hope of our salvation” (pp4, 5 of this document).
“In all of my reading I have never once read anything that says that regeneration precedes repentance and faith” (p7).
“No one with any grasp of Scripture would fail to say that this experience of believing is prompted by the Holy Spirit. . . . But the Holy Spirit does not have to make us alive before we have this saving faith” (pp7, 8).
“God’s grace can be resisted. People do not have to say yes to the call of God and nobody is compelled to say no to the call of God” (pp8-9).
On the perseverance of the saints, Fish wished to add “another P”: “Perseverance and preservation because God ‘preserves’ or ‘keeps’ and puts within us His Spirit that we might persevere” (p9). (So apparently God is sovereign in perseverance, but not in conversion. What if someone doesn’t want to persevere? People do not have to say yes, right? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)
And finally, “I believe getting involved in reformed theology is a backward step that you as an individual or that you as a church do not want to take” (p9).
Also, there are two CDs. On one Paige Patterson addresses predestination from Romans 8.18-39 (May 2003). On the other Roy Fish addresses universalism (October 1987). As you can imagine, neither address is all that flattering to Calvinism. In fact, at one point, Patterson appears to lampoon Calvinists with the “whosoever will” texts to the crowd’s gleeful pleasure.
Now, there are a plethora of issues to discuss here: (1) The reaction is against hyper-Calvinism, not traditional Calvinism. Why are there no tirades against hyper-Arminianism? (2) Arminianism has ravaged SB churches, leaving them poor examples of effective evangelism. Promoting false conversions is equally as dangerous as striving for no conversions (the perceived Calvinist position, which is really a hyper-Calvinist position). (3) Don’t we boast of our local church autonomy? Why does someone at a state office, whom I’ve never met and who knows nothing about our church, feel the need to consider these resources beneficial for my congregation? Don’t the churches contribute the Cooperative program, which funds SB seminaries, which train men to gauge what resources are beneficial? Well, I could go one, but I’m afraid the sun would go down on my anger.
My main concern, however, is that it seems that the Southern Baptist leadership has drawn their line in the sand (at least in Texas). Why didn’t they send out a printed sermon and two CDs from Southern Baptists who defend traditional Calvinism? That would’ve been fair, not disenfranchising and I could eat my lunch in peace. But, they’ve intentionally isolated themselves far from Boyce, Mell, Howell and Dagg (to name only a few). The establishment is saying that being a Calvinist is inconsistent with being a Southern Baptist.
Please don’t tell that to R.B.C. Howell (SBC president, 1851-59) who said, “The whole arrangement was, therefore, of his own sovereign grace, uninfluenced by human merit” (Nettles, By His Grace and For His Glory, p164).
Please don’t tell that to Richard Fuller (SBC president, 1859-1863) who said, “If any thing be certain, then it is that the anti-predestinarian system is wholly untenable. It is good for nothing, since it solves no difficulty and stultifies our reason, it is practical atheism and it contradicts express assertions of the Bible” (ibid., p165).
Please don’t tell that to P.H. Mell, who was a founding delegate of the SBC. He also served from 1845 to 1886 in some capacity as an officer of the Georgia Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention (often simultaneously president of both!). In Mell’s biography written by his son, P.H. Mell, Jr., we read: “When first called to take charge of the church [Antioch Church in Georgia] Dr. Mell found it in a sad state of confusion. He said a number of members were drifting off into Arminianism. He loved the truth too well to blow hot and cold with the same breath. If it was a Baptist [emphasis his] church it must have doctrines peculiar to that denomination preached to it. And with that boldness, clearness and vigor of speech that marked him, he preached to them the doctrines of predestination, election, free-grace, etc. He said it was always his [emphasis his] business to preach the truth as he found it in God’s Word, and leave the matters there, feeling that God would take care of the results.”
You may not like Calvinism and its influence, but please don’t say it’s not the ground floor of Southern Baptist heritage. You’re free to call yourself something else and start over, but don’t demand that we Calvinists shed our Southern Baptist label. Calvinism gave birth to the Southern Baptist Convention (who didn’t have any trouble with missions and evangelism), and now we’re asked to forsake our mother.
(By the way, I will gladly make these resources I received available to you, if you so desire.)